By: Farooq Sumar
Rape is about sex in the sense that rapists not only commit acts of sexual violence, but that the pervasive threat of sexual assault is used to limit women’s sovereignty and justify sexual assault itself
Rape has existed since antiquity just as male domination over women has existed since time immemorial. It is present across all cultures, cuts across all religions and recognises no boundaries. The savagery of the rapist does not spare the victim whether it is a child or an old woman. Rape has been an instrument of punitive action during wars since ancient times. Mankind’s pursuits not only produce the values that we live by but also rear the abominations that curse us.
Such an abominable act was committed by some monsters on a baby, a child of five years. She was severely abused, injured, and left to die bleeding. It is difficult to imagine how she endured this ordeal, not comprehending why the horrible pain her body was being made to suffer, not understanding why these fearful men were hurting her; she must have been so afraid before she passed out with unbearable pain and fear. So many like little Sumbul are sent into oblivion each day to suffer a lifetime of miseries.
Apart from the obvious physical trauma she will have to suffer profound long-term psychological effects. These may include, according to Wikipedia, “Denial helplessness, dislike of sex, anger, self-blame, shame, nightmares, fear, depression, flashbacks, mood-swings, numbness, difficulty trusting oneself or others, difficulty concentrating.” What then is left of the lives of most victims of rape. Very few are as brave and as fortunate as Sohaila Abdulali to recover and say, “After being raped, I was wounded, my honour was not.” Sohaila is an Indian writer who was raped at the age of 17. We heard the Punjab health minister on TV declaring nonchalantly that little Sumbul will be sent abroad, if required. May we ask him and the chief minister how many little girls he will send abroad because if he needs to know the numbers they are big and getting bigger daily. Amending the laws, enforcing them by coming down heavy on the perpetrators and the influential and to stop protecting extremists in the Punjab might be more effective.
Unfortunately, our reaction as a nation to Sumbul’s tragedy has not been commensurate with the kind of atrocity committed. There could be a number of reasons for that: being a violence-prone society we have become somewhat immune to tragedies; our undemocratic past has not allowed us to create legitimate traditions of protest and demonstrations; our influential, powerful and wealthy people do not protest or demonstrate as they are only armchair specialists, and anyway, this was only a poor child. It hurts to say this but some months ago India’s peace was shattered by a rape and murder and hundreds of thousands all over India forced its government to amend laws, apprehend and sentence the beasts. Our inaction on all types of lawlessness has led us to our present state; continue sitting in your palatial homes coveting your wealth and position and there will soon be nothing more than a ticket to Canada or elsewhere to covet.
It is a globally accepted fact that rape is the least reported crime, but we must know and accept the fact that in countries like ours where tribal and feudal culture is widespread and a convoluted mindset is common, the occurrence of rape is amongst the highest and its reporting probably the lowest. Not to forget that the victim then goes on to become the accused and a pariah within her own family and society, very often the target of honour killing, probably with the connivance of the police.
Oppression of women in our society is a norm, their denigration is a reality and their rights are subject to ratification by the father, brother or husband. Most women live the life of bondage regardless of class or creed. Jill Filipovic, writing for The Guardian says, “Rapists are particularly abetted by cultures in which women are second-class citizens, where women’s bodies are intensely politicised, where social hierarchies outlandishly privilege certain members and where there’s a presumption of male authority and righteousness.”
The activist Hina Jilani puts it succinctly: “The right to life of women in Pakistan is conditional on their obeying social norms and traditions.” These ‘social norms and traditions’ are in actual fact the power game that is being played since millennia to dominate and subjugate the female gender. Rape is very much a part of exercising dominance. Filipovic says, “Rape is a particularly difficult crime because it’s about both power and violence. Rapists use sex organs as the locus of their violence, but rape isn’t about sex, at least not in the sense of being motivated by sexual attraction or an uncontrollable sexual urge. Rape is about sex in the sense that rapists not only commit acts of sexual violence, but that the pervasive threat of sexual assault is used to limit women’s sovereignty and justify sexual assault itself.”
The tragedy of Pakistan’s socio-political condition today is such that it is as ignorant and backward as the pre-Islamic society was. We have regressed; we may vociferously profess Islam but we have lost the understanding of Islam. The tribes and the biradaris are being proclaimed instead of the universality of the religion. The monstrous laws of the jirga are being forcibly imposed on the people where innocent women can be decreed to be gang-raped like Mukhtaran Mai was and thereafter paraded naked. Tribal and family feuds are settled by punitive actions and exchange of women into bondage. What honour can be restored by such barbarous acts? Our rulers are aware of these inhuman practices; some of them like Musharraf even said to The Washington Post in 2005, “ A lot of people say if you want a visa for Canada or citizenship, get yourself raped.” If this is their thinking then what can be expected of those they lead.
Recently, there was a case reported in the media of a father drowning his little daughter as an unwanted. Is this what our madrassas are teaching us now after it being proscribed 1,400 years ago? Islam teaches love, upholds the dignity of human beings, gives equal rights to all, proclaims freedom of religion and religious practice and insists on justice. While our reality is that we kill, maim and rape our fellow beings. We disrespect, denigrate, oppress and deny justice. We refuse to accept the rights of other sects and give ourselves the right to eliminate them. Where in Islam do you find justification for these crimes? All it requires is a fatwa by an ignorant and demented so-called maulvi to a bunch of equally ignorant followers and the mayhem is let loose.
Rape cannot be eliminated from any society but its incidence has been reduced in many countries and can be decreased at home too provided a few necessary steps are taken. Firstly, the legal framework must be created by amending and rewriting the rape laws so that no avenues of escape are available to the perpetrator. Secondly, the law enforcement system, which is both weak and corrupt, needs to be strengthened and female officers trained and recruited to deal with rape cases with full powers. Thirdly, we need to recognise that the problem is exacerbated by illiteracy and the prevalence of a tribal and feudal culture that sanctions and to a large extent legitimises rape and other crimes against women. Steps then need to be taken to bring about positive changes through legislation and education to force changes in this corrosive mindset.
The writer is a businessman and a former chairman of the National Textile Foundation. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org